In 2015, Angola-born model Maria Borges made headlines when she walked the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show with her short, naturally curly hair — a beauty look the lingerie brand known for smooth, bouncy beach waves had never shown on the runway in its 20-year history. "I told my agent I wanted to walk in the Victoria's Secret show with my natural hair," Borges told Essence after her runway appearance sent waves of surprise and excitement throughout the industry. "I was nervous, but I had to do it. When they said 'yes' I didn't expect it, but I was so happy."
Clearly Borges's au naturel look struck a chord, because for the 2016 edition of the show in Paris, a handful of models — Alanna Arrington, Dilone, Jourdana Phillips and Hereith Paul — got the opportunity to walk sans extensions, with the hair team simply playing up and polishing their natural textures and everyday styles. "The whole inspiration was, 'let them be them,' which I think is quite new for Victoria's Secret," said one stylist on Anthony Turner's hair team, who worked with Phillips's natural texture, taming the frizz around her hairline with wax and smoothing her bleached curls with some oil. Paul, a Victoria's Secret rookie who's been on the high-fashion runway circuit for several years, had a similar experience with her hair for the show. "They just enhanced my curls using a Beachwaver wand that's really skinny; my curls are so tight that you can't really tell anything was done," she explained. "They added some shine spray to keep it moisturized and looking its best, too."
Dilone, a self-proclaimed tomboy with an asymmetrical cropped haircut, has walked in shows for Chanel, Balmain, Dries van Noten, Balenciaga and more over the last couple of years, but initially worried that her offbeat style might keep her from landing the coveted Victoria's Secret casting. "When I was younger, this was it, this was the dream, this is what I wanted to do; and then I cut my hair off and I didn't think it was possible," she said. "Then last year, Maria Borges did the show with her natural hair, and that was the first time I thought, 'this might actually be possible.'" For the VS runway, stylists smoothed out Dilone's curls for a glamorous wave that swept to one side, peeking out from underneath a knit beanie during the Pink segment.
Finally, Arrington — whose shaggy curls first made a splash when she opened the Altuzarra show in February — looked absolutely adorable bopping around backstage after the beauty team had finished their take on her signature hairstyle, allowing her personality to shine through. "They just took an iron and grabbed curls here and there, touching it up so it wasn't frizzy," she said. "Other than that, they left it mostly natural — I'm happy about that."
While Borges was a pioneer of sorts on the Victoria's Secret beauty front just a year ago, the brand definitely seems to be striving to make diversity a priority — as well as the celebration of individual aesthetic idiosyncrasies. As for why this matters, perhaps Arrington said it best: "For all my girls out there with curly hair and quirky smiles and anything weird — I hope they see the show and see us out there walking confidently, being ourselves."
Disclosure: Victoria's Secret provided my travel and accommodations to cover its annual fashion show.